Tag Archives: communion

The Inconvenience of Lent

[This post was originally published on Relief Journal’s blog, and I’m happy to say our church now incorporates communion into the service]

In our American culture of drive-through coffee, instant Twitter feeds, and video on demand, we prize immediacy. We like to check our email on our touchscreen phone as soon as it hits our inbox, grab lunch to-go, and download live-streaming news. We are a nation of busy professionals, parents, and students living under the banner of “carpe diem,” driven by the idea that there’s no time like the present.

This “now” syndrome certainly has advantages, motivating us to work hard and invest fully in whatever we’re doing, but what happens when we apply our instant-culture values to spirituality?

I once had a bizarre experience with communion that made me consider this question. After months of exhausting church-searching, my husband and I finally found a church where we wanted to stay. It’s a contemporary kind of church, the kind that has a graphic designer on staff and a coffee bar out in the hall, and we came because we like the teaching and the small groups. But you have to understand, the church we went to before we moved was a liturgical church, the kind with Kierkegaard quotes in every other sermon and weekly communion. So we knew we’d have to make some adjustments at our new church.

But this is what I did not expect: communion that is served before the service, an addendum tacked onto and separate from the worship service. So we set our alarms a little earlier, entered the sanctuary, and found only a fraction of the congregation had shown up. The pastor said a prayer for this handful of early-risers, and at his invitation we filed up front and received the elements, and then it was over. The whole ordeal took literally five minutes. There was no time of confession before receiving the sacrament. There was no benediction afterwards, charging us to go forth bearing Christ into the world. There was no community, only a yawning faithful few. There was no ritual, no careful unfolding of holiness.

It was like grabbing Christ’s blood of the covenant, His outpouring for the world, in a Styrofoam to-go cup. It was a sacrament dictated by convenience, quickly squeezed in between other items on the agenda, and left out of the greater context of cosmic redemption.

The problem with an instant culture, and an instant church, is that a preoccupation with the present diminishes our ability to see seasons, to see story, to observe the unfolding of time. This is the pivotal idea of the sacrament of communion: Christ asks us to remember Him by taking the bread and wine (Luke 22:19), and to anticipate the future when we will eat and drink with Him face to face (Matt. 26:29).

As we now enter the season of Lent, we enter a time of waiting. There is no immediacy or convenience here. But there is a story of cosmic proportions unfolding, as we take the forty days of Lent to remember, to walk through the events of the life of Christ: the temptation in the desert, the agony of Good Friday, the silence and sorrow of Holy Saturday, and the joyful victory of Sunday morning.

It is often difficult for us to lay down our gadgets and agendas to just sit for a while, quiet our souls, and dwell with God. And yet, He laid down everything for us, making Himself “nothing” and emptying Himself to the point of death (Phil. 2:7-98).

In his beautiful poem“Seven Stanzas at Easter,” John Updike writes of the agony of the cross, “Let us not seek to make it less monstrous, for our own convenience…” As we cross the threshold of Ash Wednesday, let us reflect sincerely and sorrowfully on Christ’s suffering for us, so that on Easter morning, our hearts will grasp the incredible joy in His resurrection.

How do you find preparing yourself for Easter through Lent an inconvenience? How do you find it a blessing?

The Church is Like a Soup Kitchen #ATLT

Today I’m honored to be posting in Preston Yancey’s At the Lord’s Table blog line-up, in his own words, “a series of over 50 posts from varying authors about the beautiful, mangled Church. Look for at least two new posts every Monday through Saturday between January 25th and February 22nd. Join us in the conversation? See you in the comments.”

Here’s the beginning of my post and I’ll see you over at Preston’s blog to read the rest! 

If communion is an occasion for confession and cleansing of sin before approaching the table, then I was entering crunch time. I was already out of my seat, shuffling reverently forward with the rest physically, but spiritually stuck on the awareness that another member of the congregation, another child of God, was concurrently approaching the table.  I knew I could not honestly receive the cup and bread with a grudge in my heart, but this person had hurt me. And I struggled to forgive…

Exploring the Intersection of Spiritual and Physical: A Reading List

One of the topics I write about on this blog is embodied faith, something I am trying to be a student of and is of personal importance to me. Embodied faith speaks to me of wholeness, a marriage of the spiritual and tangible, of which the Incarnation teaches us. The Incarnation is a word that means “to be made flesh,” to be embodied, a God who took on muscle and skin. How can you not stand amazed at the transcendent God who becomes a man with sweat glands and hiccups?

The body of Christ, in which the spiritual and physical wholly converge, became God’s channel of redemption in the world. “This is my body, broken for you…”

But I’ve struggled with this my whole life. In many ways, I am a recovering ascetic—one who renounces the sensory, physical experience for a life of self-denial—and I am learning, and loving, this new life of sensory, embodied faith. The tenets of our faith rely on it: the Incarnation, resurrection, the Eucharist or communion of the elements, all require hands to feel, tongues to taste, eyes to see, ears to hear.

I used to see my body as something I could transcend, some skin I could shed if I ran hard enough. I viewed my physical body as grotesque and over-spiritualized it, filling my heart with prayer and dangerously emptying my stomach. I was influenced by the vein of Christian thought that views our bodies as mere “earth-suits,” a temporary fixture that we will surpass once we reach our glorified states. So I fed my spirit and neglected my body, and became desensitized in both.

In my experience the church is afraid of the words, “sensory,” or worse, “sensual.” We translate this to hedonism, indulgence, sexual decadence. We have a hard time not cringing at the word, “pleasure” in church. But over and over again in Scripture I encounter a God who calls to His people to see His face, hear His voice, reach out and touch His glory. A people to behold Him, all senses captivated.

Skin is sacred. It is not severed from spirit, or second-rate, because we are whole people. We do not come in segments, and the Word is made flesh.

One way I am exploring this intersection of the spiritual and physical is through some good reading. I’m in the process of creating a reading list that addresses the issues surrounding embodied faith, here are a few titles (of many more!) on my shelf that I’ve read or am reading currently. What other books should be on this list? I’m open to suggestions!

What else should be on this list? Any recommendations? Thanks for your help!

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